This is the familiar message of Christmas, right?

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

My hope for us though is that we see “Emmanuel” as so much more than a familiar Christmas message.

My hope is that we learn to consider God’s Presence in a new way.

We can understand the comfort and peace of God’s Presence.

And we can also easily recognize His corrective Presence- like a parent walking into the kitchen while you are putting your hand in the proverbial cookie jar. Their presence would curtail your behavior.

But what if His Presence could be something more than simply a moral watchdog or a warm hug? Is there something more that God with us could mean in our actual lived lives?

This year, I used the Christmas season to take me through Advent, through the Twelve Days of Christmas, concluding the season with Epiphany. I didn’t grow up in a liturgical church, so this was a new experience for me.

New and profound.

Epiphany is the celebration of God’s revelation to the Gentiles, marked by the journey of the wisemen coming to bring gifts to Jesus, the newborn King of the Jews. The word “epiphany” means manifest, or to make something “seeable.” We often think of an epiphany like a light bulb going off, a “Wow! I see that now!” moment.

And when a mental light bulb goes off, we end up thinking, “Now I get it!,” as though we suddenly understand everything. But instead this usually means we need to see (pun intended) a little more carefully, a little more slowly.

When a light bulb goes off, it isn’t that we understand everything, but rather we understand something that then changes the way we see everything else.

This is the Epiphany:
Jesus is God with us. His very presence is with us in our very lives– the ones we actually live.

So, this leads to my questions:
How does God’s Presence change the way we see?
How does God’s Presence change what we see?
How might God’s Presence change the way we see the world and our way in the world?

C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

What would it be like for us to see the world in the light of Jesus and His gospel?

Many of us may mainly see God’s Presence as the governor that curtails our behavior- the conviction that helps us keep our behavior in check.

This is so short-sighted. God becomes a moral watchdog, a killjoy, looking over our shoulder to see if we are living the way we should. God with us gets reduced to a preventative presence that keeps us well-behaved. And so we miss the power of God’s Presence in our lives as we learn to navigate our world.

On Sunday, in my message, I shared about our recent family trip to Disney. My niece works there and, let’s just say, she knows her way around. So, maneuvering the crowds and all the ins and outs with her by our side was easy.

One of our top things we wanted to experience was the Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster in Epcot. It started off well- we used our virtual cue and got in line. But just fifteen minutes in, the ride was closed. To say I was discouraged was an understatement. In my mind, I was giving up.
“I guess it’s not going to happen.”

But, I looked at my niece and she was unfazed.

It was like she knew something I didn’t.

She said, “Follow me,” so we reset our fast passes and grabbed some lunch.

Eventually, the ride opened back up and off we went to get in line again.

Now, like most Disney rides, the queue for Guardians of the Galaxy is part of the experience. We zipped through different spaces as the narrative of the ride unfolded, building anticipation for the roller coaster to come. As we moved from space to space, it was a little chaotic. We were in a mass of people and had no idea what was happening.

Except my niece was with us. And again, she said, “Follow me!” So, we stayed close.

We entered into the final space. My niece took us around to the right side of the room and she stopped very abruptly, very intentionally. As a light show started, my niece turned and faced a particular wall. Then, the lights went out and the walls that had once surrounded us disappeared.

We stayed close.

And we found ourselves positioned exactly where we needed to be. We were right in front of the door that took us straight to the ride.

My niece knew how to get around. And our experience was different because we were with her… and she was with us. Whether the doors were open or whether we were facing disappointment, her presence reframed our experience. We simply had to trust her perspective and stay close.

You can probably see where this is going.

The invitation of Jesus is to follow Him, to stay close and to remain.

What if we learned to see God’s Presence as more than just a corrective presence to keep us out of trouble or doing the wrong thing? What if we learned that following Jesus was being with the One who knew how to get around in this world?

Life is not all open doors. Sometimes it is deeply disappointing.

But His Presence can serve to reframe our perspective. To see through the lens of our faith rather than what we see in our circumstances. God with us helps us navigate the chaos of a broken world, faithfully and full of hope.

When we choose one word for one year, we are choosing a lens, a tool, to help us see God’s work and also, God’s Presence.

Our one words provide a way for us to frame what we see. And they also serve as reminders to stay close and remain.

As you consider your word for 2024, I encourage you to reflect on how it will help you see the world in the light of Jesus and His gospel.

How will it be a lens to help you see more carefully, more slowly? How might you notice the light bulb moments that await you in the year to come? How might those light bulb moments illuminate and change the way you see everything else?

How will your one word help you enter into the reality of God with us?

The work of the gospel of God in our lives begins when we start to see differently because of what God is revealing to us in Jesus. Our words are a vehicle to help us consider how to bring to bear what God wants and intends in the actual lives we have, in the world we are living right now.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.